Yasmani Grandal, like a hurricane
This is not a comprehensive, ranked list. This is a group of college hitters who have a good chance of going early in the draft. Part Two will follow tomorrow, then I will do a mock draft, my personal preference list, and further supplemental reports.
Scroll to the bottom of this report for my take on Bryce Harper
Bryce Brentz, OF, Middle Tennessee State University
A 6-1, 185 pound right-handed hitter, Brentz is hitting .331/.438/.669 with 11 homers. His production has been solid but perhaps not quite as good as his press clippings: his OPS in the Middle Tennessee context is about +26 percent, very good but not spectacular. On the other hand, he's had some problems with a nagging ankle injury, and scouts say he's being worked around in the lineup: he's not getting many good pitches to hit. They continue to focus on his excellent raw power, some scouts rating him as the top power hitter available in the four-year college ranks. He has decent speed and a right field throwing arm. Brentz should go somewhere in the 12-18 range depending on late May performance and his bonus demands.
Gary Brown, OF, Cal State Fullerton
At 6-1, 180, Brown features outstanding speed and would be a prototype leadoff man, if he'd draw a few more walks. He's hitting .448/.492/.703 this spring, with 27 steals in 31 attempts, but just seven walks in 172 at-bats. He makes contact and has some punch to the gaps, but power will never be his game. It doesn't have to be, as long as he gets on base enough for his plus/plus speed to be meaningful. His glove is highly-regarded, and scouts love his work ethic and energy on the field. Brown is a target for the second half of the first round due to his speed and fielding ability.
Michael Choice, OF, University of Texas-Arlington
Choice is 6-1, 215 pounds, hitting from the right side. Scouts rate his tools as just average overall, except his power which is excellent. His numbers stand out: .395/.569/.755 with 14 homers and 58 walks in 147 at-bats, with an OPS about 67 percent better than his context. He's also swiped 11 bases in 14 attempts, although scouts don't think the steals will carry to higher levels and his defense is mediocre. Choice has more current usable power than Brentz and is a more complete hitter than Brown, though his physical tools aren't as impressive as either of his competitors. He would slot best in the second half of the first round to a team looking for power, but there have been rumors he could go earlier than that for a team looking for a slot bargain.
Christian Colon, SS, Cal State Fullerton
The 6-1, 190 pound Colon may be the first four-year college hitter drafted. After a slow start, he's now hitting .325/.432/.618, knocking 11 homers along with 24 walks and just 10 strikeouts in 157 at-bats, giving him more offensive potential than most middle infielders. I love the BB/K ratio. His range and hands work well at shortstop, but his arm isn't exceptional and some scouts see him more as a second baseman long-term. My own view is that he should be able to remain at short, enhancing his value. His work ethic and makeup are also considered excellent. Colon is a Scott Boras guy, but his overall potential should still get him into the Top Ten picks.
Zach Cox, 3B, University of Arkansas
If Colon isn't the first four-year hitter drafted, Cox could be. The 6-1, 215 pound left-handed hitter has a pure stroke and excelled last year in the Cape Cod League, showing his skills with the wooden bat. He should hit for both power and average at higher levels. Defensively, he has the arm strength and hands for third base, but perhaps not the range. He could be moved to second base or perhaps the outfield eventually, but I wouldn't give up on him at third. He's hitting .436 with a 30/22 BB/K in 181 at-bats for the Razorbacks, showing strong contact hitting skills but not terrific power yet with six homers. He could go anywhere from six to 20 in the draft, and I'll try to get a better handle on his slot before I do my mock draft next week.
Todd Cunningham, OF, Jacksonville State University
An impressive 6-1, 205 pound switch-hitter, Cunningham exploded in the wooden-bat Cape Cod League last year and has maintained momentum, hitting .346 with 28 walks, 23 strikeouts in 159 at-bats this spring, swiping 14 bases in 16 attempts. He hasn't fully unleashed his power yet and may never be a huge home run guy, but he should provide plenty of doubles and triples along with a solid OBP and batting average. His outfield defense is well-regarded, as is his makeup. He would be a good fit for several clubs in the supplemental round, and a late flourish could push him up a bit higher than that.
Derek Dietrich, SS, Georgia Tech
Dietrich's numbers look excellent on the surface: .349/.456/.698 with 14 homers this spring. His 18/23 BB/K is decent (though not excellent), but keep in mind that his team OPS is 1020; he's 13 percent better than his teammates statistically, which is good but not amazing. That fits the scouting reports: scouts see him as a guy with a lot of potential, but an erratic approach at the plate that is sometimes exposed by better pitching. He can be streaky and strike zone judgment sometimes fails him. On defense, he has a strong throwing arm but just average range, and many scouts see him as a third baseman or right fielder eventually, which will increase the pressure on his bat. Dietrich looks like a potential second round pick to me, but there is a chance he could go higher than that. He's 6-1, 195 and hits from the left side.
Micah Gibbs, C, Louisiana State University
Gibbs is currently hitting .410/.482/.584 for LSU, leading the team in batting average and ranking third in slugging among regular players. His 21/17 BB/K ratio shows decent command of the strike zone, and while he doesn't project as an outstanding hitter, he should be a useful one. Gibbs draws raves for his defense, including a strong throwing arm, mobility, and leadership skills. His profile is similar to that of Astros prospect Jason Castro, a guy with a decent stick but with very valuable defensive ability. He's polished and won't need a lot of time in the minors, and could fit in the bottom part of the first round for any team looking for a catcher. Castro went earlier in the 2008 draft than expected, and it's not impossible that Gibbs could go earlier than anticipated as well.
Yasmani Grandal, C, University of Miami-Florida
Six months ago, Grandal was considered to be similar to Gibbs: a strong defensive catcher with a decent bat who could get into the lower part of the first round under the right conditions. But while Gibbs has maintained his stock, Grandal has significantly improved his with a breakout season, hitting .429 with 10 homers, 39 walks and 25 strikeouts in 154 at-bats, leading his team in OPS, OBP, and SLG while showing good plate discipline. Rumors now have him getting into the top 15 picks, maybe the top ten, and even possibly in the top five; one rumor connects him with the Royals at number four overall. I don't know if he'll go that high, but a 6-2, 210 pound left-hitting catcher with power, plate discipline, and a good glove is certainly a very attractive commodity.
Bryce Harper, C, College of Southern Nevada
Everyone knows about Harper; he's been hyped for years, and he's actually living up to the hype, hitting .407/.500/.901 with 21 homers, 30 walk and 31 strikeouts in 162 at-bats, with 16 stolen bases in 18 attempts. He's made progress on defense, and his bat is extremely polished for a 17 year old playing against older competition. Two negatives: he might have to move to right field or first base eventually if he outgrows catcher, and his makeup has been questioned of late. I'm not worried about the size issue at this point. On the other hand, the makeup thing is somewhat concerning. His work ethic on the field isn't questioned, but he apparently has a huge sense of entitlement. That is understandable given his age and the fact that he's the best 17 year old hitter to come along in the last 20 years. A big ego goes with the territory and is hardly damning at this stage of his career. The thing that bothers me are reports of him taunting opponents. I'd like more detail about that. Razzing opponents has been part of the game for a century and there's nothing wrong with that, but the fact that it is being pointed out as a specific issue with Harper is unusual. The taunting could be an overblown report that we should ignore. It could be a simple case of 17 year old braggadocio that he'll outgrow. Or it could be a symptom of a larger issue that could alienate teammates and negatively impact his career. There's no way to know yet given his age, and at this point I'm not going to worry about that either, not without more information.
Even if Harper has significant makeup problems and will command a huge bonus, I think the Nationals still have to draft him at number one. Harper is basically Joe Mauer with more power, and you just can't pass that up, even if he doesn't have Mauer's personality.
EDIT: Let me clarify something about Harper/Mauer.
This is what happens when you try to write an article when drugged on pain meds. What I was TRYING to write was that if you want to envision Bryce Harper’s ceiling, think about Joe Mauer with more power, but a bit less batting average and weaker defense.